“I went to work at the age of 21 for Sir Bernard Ashley, who was the co-founder of Laura Ashley – he was the husband. Sir Bernard invited me effectively to house-sit for him at his home in the south of France, where there was work being done.
“I was there for about three months, and I had time to walk the wooded areas of the estate and spend time just thinking, really.
“It was during one of these walks, on an October morning – it was frosty and the sunlight was coming through the chestnut trees and I was blown away by the beauty and the peace – when I had my encounter, as it were.
“I can only describe it as somebody else’s thought deep in my heart and chest and I knew – I still don’t know why to this day – but I knew I was being called as a Catholic priest.
“Nothing had prompted this, I didn’t know any Catholics at the time. I was on this little estate in the middle of nowhere but this sort of voice, this silent word in my heart and my soul, it seemed totally natural, and it was like every fibre of my being had just said ‘Yes’.
“To me it was a most unusual thing because you can’t think of any way it was prompted yet it seemed so natural at the same time.
“I don’t know why but I just knew that I had to become a Catholic priest. My instant response was to think ‘don’t be daft’, but the thought never left.
“I was saying to myself, ‘no, no, no, this is not for me’, but the feeling just doesn’t leave you. It is like the famous [Francis Thompson] poem, ‘The Hound of Heaven’. It felt as if there was a sort of pull despite my best attempts.
“I was ordained and Sir Bernard gave me some money to buy a chalice. He thought it was a good thing.
“The countryside can be a good place to discern a vocation because of the silence. It doesn’t matter whether you are walking the streets of Birmingham or the country lanes, it is to do with the quality of the silence and the ability to listen.
“It is about creating space. You can become very distracted by all sorts of things and we need that space. We need peace and I was given that in France.
“The Holy Spirit has left me in no doubt. Everything about this vocation is right. Everything is aligned.”
Canon Jonathan Mitchell was talking to Simon Caldwell
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